Reporters Without Borders

A year in prison for no reason

A year in prison for no reason

Published on Saturday 3 March 2012.
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Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the immediate release of investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, who complete their first year in detention today, and the immediate release of the Oda TV news website’s journalists, who have been held for just over a year on a similar terrorism charge.

The press freedom organization also backs the calls for demonstrations in Istanbul today by the Freedom for Journalists platform, the “Friends of Ahmet and Nedim” and the “Friends of Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan” to press for the release of all imprisoned journalists.

“Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener have spent a year in detention while Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan have spent a year in solitary confinement!” Reporters Without Borders said. “And all the other journalists who have been held for even longer periods, how much longer will they be held? It is high time Turkey stopped criminalizing journalism. This requires legislative reform and a change of attitude on the part of the judicial apparatus. But the first step is to end the nightmare that the imprisoned journalists are living through.”

The trial of Sik, Sener and eight Oda TV journalists opened on 22 November in Istanbul with representatives of many Turkish and international media freedom organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, attending as observers. In one hearing after another, it has become clear that the prosecution has no case, but the provisional release requests have been systematically rejected without any grounds being given.

Oda TV news editor Dogan Yurdakul, who is 66, was released on health grounds on 22 February but he is the only one. He said he was partly relieved after a difficult year in detention but his relief would be complete only when his colleagues were freed. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for 12 March.

The prosecutor’s office in the northern Istanbul district of Silivri has just announced that Balbay, a Cumhuriyet journalist arrested on 6 March 2009, and Özkan, Kanaltürk TV’s owner and head of a political party, who was arrested on 23 September 2008, will no longer be subjected to solitary confinement.

Accused of membership of the alleged terrorist network Ergenekon, they spent a total of 369 days in solitary confinement in Silivri high-security prison. They will now share cells with the Oda TV detainees.

The European Court of Human Rights recently addressed questions to the Turkish authorities about the treatment Özkan has received. They have until 10 April to explain how the length of his pre-trial detention is compatible with article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires a trial within a “reasonable” period and the possibility of an appeal in which all parties are heard.

In a separate case, the lawyers of Ragip Zarakolu, a publisher and columnist who has been held for more than four months, petitioned the European Court of Human Rights on 27 February. Özcan Kiliç, one of his lawyers, told Reporters Without Borders that they are accusing the authorities of violating articles 3, 5, 10 and 13 of the convention because they interrogated him in a way that was tantamount to mistreatment, imprisoned him without plausible grounds, violated his right to free expression and denied him due process.

Arrested on 28 October, Zarakolu has yet to be formally charged. During the initial interrogation sessions, he was accused of writing columns for the daily Özgür Gündem, attending the inauguration of the Istanbul Political Academy, which is linked to the legal pro-Kurd party BDP, and taking “too many” trips abroad, which suggested that he was participating in the activities of outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed separatist organization.

Held in Kocaeli high-security prison (southeast of Istanbul), Zarakolu is now sharing a cell with his son, Deniz Zarakolu, who was arrested in the same investigation on 5 October, and with other detainees. The same prison is being used to hold most of the male journalists and employees of pro-Kurd media such as Ömer Celik, Ramazan Pekgöz and Sadik Topaloglu who were arrested during a series of raids on 20 December.

The women arrested in these raids, including Zeynep Kurtay, Nahide Ermis and Semiha Alankus, are being held in Istanbul’s Bakirköy prison. Although they have been detained for more than two months, they are still waiting to know what they are charged with.

  • Read Reporters Without Borders’ report on the case of Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener (June 2011): "A book is not a bomb!"
  • Read the report on the international press freedom mission to Turkey in November 2011: "Set journalists free!"

(Photo: AFP / Adem Altan)

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